Taking Back My iPod Part 1: It’s Mine Now Apple


I realised it’s been an indeterminable length of time since my last blog post about iTunes and it’s alternatives. Well, not exactly indeterminable because you can see the time stamps on my blog posts but you know what I mean, and a lot has happened on that front since my last meanderings on the subject.

That’s the hook that makes you click the link to read on.

I have started my own podcast along with 2 Americans (I know. Who would have thunk it) so as part of this process I started to use iTunes so I could start up the rss feed on the iTunes Music Store and so I could make sure that published shows were appearing when they were meant to.

In for a penny, in for a pound I thought so I switched my mobile media management allegiance to the dreaded iTunes, and a couple of months down the road I can no longer take it. There I was one day, waiting for iTunes to become responsive again and I started thinking about the whole thing. I think it is good the way that it handles podcasts in that it checks the feeds and when new shows are out it downloads them for you. It marks them as new both on your computer and on your iPod, and when you have listened to them it marks them as listened to on both your computer and your iPod. More cleverly, if you listen to half of one on your iPod, plug it into your computer and then play the podcast on your computer, it continues from where you got up to on your iPod so clearly the bookmarks are synced as well.

That whole part of it is fine, but that is the end of the “fine ness” now iTunes really begins to get annoying. The media library on my 30GB iPod Video is around 26GB with 3 or 4 films and because of the way iTunes works, that same content has to sit dormant on my hard drive at all times as well because otherwise if I delete it from my hard drive it will get deleted from my iPod the next time I connect it. Knowing that to be true, and making iPod models (currently) with storage up to 160Gigabytes, why, when iTunes gets loaded up, even to the 30 Gigabyte level does it slow to a crawl? It becomes so sluggish as to be almost unusable, and if it hadn’t been managing my podcasts so well I would have ditched it far sooner. So once again I needed an alternative to the iTunes solution.

Having previously tried all the management software solutions like Floola, Yamipod and Sharepod before, I wanted to try something different, and since I tried those, something interesting had happened, I had bought a new car, and this one has an audio in jack plug on the dashboard so I didn’t need to rely on the FM transmitter to be able to listen to the iPod in the car, I could just use the headphone socket and hook it straight into the car stereo. It also meant the sound quality was better too. The importance of that being that it meant I would be able to try Rockbox and not lose any functionality.

Basically Rockbox installs onto your iPod and when you switch the iPod on you see Rockbox running and not the original Apple firmware, but it is dual boot so if you do need to use the Apple firmware again you can do so without having to uninstall Rockbox. The reason I couldn’t use Rockbox in the past was that it did not support the FM transmitter which I was relying on in my old car, but now that I was using the headphone socket/audio in option that was no longer an issue. As an aside, Rockbox does actually now support the FMTransmitter, so I could have switched sooner.

So what advantages would I gain by no longer using iTunes and the Apple firmware? Well, a few actually.
(1) I could ditch the sluggish iTunes.
(2) I wouldn’t have to maintain 30GB of dormant data on my hard drive.
(3) I could add content from any computer anywhere.
(4) I could listen to the audio on my iPod via the PC I was using without having to use a third party program like Yamipod or Floola.
(5) I could delete content from my iPod on the go without having to do it using a PC.

Why are these things an issue then and how does Rockbox solve them?

(1) I could ditch the sluggish iTunes.
You don’t need to use iTunes to add content because Rockbox does not use the iTunes database like third party apps have to do. It can read the file structure on the iPod in disk mode, so you simply create a folder on your iPod called Audio or Music or whatever you prefer, and drag and drop your music into it. That’s it. No need to tag it all if it isn’t already, and you can organise the structure however you like. The beauty of it though is that Rockbox has a file and a database option so you can either browse for music using your own file structure or the database which uses your id3 tags as iTunes would normally do.

(2) I wouldn’t have to maintain 30GB of dormant data on my hard drive.
Because I am dragging and dropping music to it, I can do that straight from my file server at home or straight from any other computer. I wouldn’t have to leave iTunes populated with all that dormant data on my own PC all of the time.

(3) I could add content from any computer anywhere.
Because Rockbox can use the file structure your iPod essentially becomes a hard drive with an interface and a headphone socket. You use it as though it were a USB hard drive and copy music to it from any computer on and Operating System that supports USB hard drives.

(4) I could listen to the audio on my iPod via the PC I was using without having to use a third party program like Yamipod or Floola.
Previously when I wanted to connect my iPod to a PC and listen to my music through the PC, I would have to use an app to do it. The app would load the database and allow me to browse it and listen to my audio. The problem with doing this is that it negates one of the nice features of iTunes and its podcast management. If I listen to a podcast it gets marked as not new so I can easily see which episodes I’ve listened to and which ones I haven’t. When you use Yamipod or Floola, they can reset the markers and all my podcasts get marked as new again and I lose track of which ones I’ve heard. Not the end of the world but bloody annoying after a few hundred times. I could now just browse the file structure and use any media player installed on the PC I am using, Winamp, Media Player, VLC etc etc. The only issue with using Media Player is that it downloads all sorts of album art files by default and its playlist management is not as useful as something like Winamp.

(5) I could delete content from my iPod on the go without having to do it using a PC.
Rockbox has an option in its menu to delete files. If you highlight a file and do a long press on the menu key it will pop up a context menu allowing you to do things like Cut, Copy, Paste, Rename, Delete etc, so once I have listened to a podcast episode I can simply delete it and so ends the confusion about what I have and have not listened to.

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